Tenant protections and a key tax break for developers are just two of the real estate issues shaping the early stages of New York’s gubernatorial race, establishing whether a growing number of Democratic hopefuls — including, most recently, Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi — fall to the right or left of incumbent and perceived moderate Kathy Hochul.
Republicans, meanwhile, appear to be uniting behind Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin, although former Westchester County executive Robert Astorino and Andrew Giuliani, the son of Rudy Giuliani, are also vying for the nomination.
Landlords and tenant advocates will be watching how Hochul handles the state’s remaining pandemic eviction protections, the scheduled expiration in June of the tax break formerly known as 421a and rising momentum for a statewide good cause eviction bill.
“We had a moderate in Andrew Cuomo, but also somebody who was extraordinarily difficult to deal with,” one industry source said.
The Real Deal took a look at the top gubernatorial contenders and where they stand on some key issues for the industry:
Gov. Kathy Hochul
After Cuomo resigned, Hochul pledged to fix the state’s stalled rent relief program. Three months later, by mid-November, the state had earmarked all of the $2.4 billion in available federal money and requested another $996 million.
It remains to be seen whether she will renew the state’s eviction and foreclosure protections, which expire Jan. 15. She has also yet to publicly state a position on good cause eviction — which would effectively cap rent increases at 3 percent or 1.5 times the inflation rate — though she recently signed legislation ensuring that stabilized leases cannot be voided or used as collateral if a tenant files for bankruptcy. Landlord groups saw her support of that bill as a sign that she will support good cause eviction.
Tenant advocates recently launched a campaign aimed at pressuring Hochul to back the policy, as well as the repeal of Affordable New York, the property tax exemption formerly known as 421a. She has not yet waded into the debate over the tax break, which is popular among multifamily developers.
Hochul, who had served as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor since 2015, recently told the New York Times that her party needs to prioritize economic growth and public safety. At a November event hosted by the Association for a Better New York, Hochul emphasized the need for New Yorkers to return to their offices. Still, she will likely need to ensure that she doesn’t appear too cozy with real estate interests.
“The development community has been pretty beaten up by the Democrats,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “She’s got to be sufficiently pro-job without appearing to be overly real-estate friendly. That will be a difficult trick.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
In 2018, Williams came about 7 percentage points, or less than 100,000 votes, shy of beating Kathy Hochul for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
This race will be a tougher climb, though Williams has gained name recognition as he has built up his progressive bonafides.
In 2019, he was among the protesters arrested in Albany after demanding that the legislature pass bills overhauling the state’s rent stabilization system. This year, he nominated tenant advocate Cea Weaver to the City Planning Commission, though he later withdrew her name from consideration at Weaver’s request.
Williams, too, supports good cause eviction and has long been critical of 421a and its successor programs, calling them giveaways to real estate developers. As a Brooklyn Council member, he introduced a measure that would ramp up city audits of the tax break. It was approved in 2017.
Williams refused real estate donations when he ran for public advocate, a position that has drawn ire from the industry for its annual “worst landlords” list. He sponsored a bill, which passed in June, requiring racial equity reports be completed as part of certain rezoning applications.
Mayor Bill de Blasio
During his eight years in office, the mayor has managed to be both scorned by the real estate industry and accused of catering to it.
In 2019, various developers — including Douglaston Development, Toll Brothers and Brookfield Financial Properties — settled ethics cases related to donations made to the mayor’s since-disbanded nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York.
The administration boasts that it is on track to meet its goal of creating or preserving 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026. Advocates, however, have criticized the centerpiece of the mayor’s housing program, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, for failing to meet the needs of extremely low-income New Yorkers.
He has not officially declared his candidacy, and has not discussed his position on eviction protections, nor the renewal of 421a. In 2015, he laid out a plan to reform the tax break, acknowledging that the program was essential to multifamily construction but calling for more affordability requirements. The proposal was ignored by Cuomo, who instead left the fate of 421a to developers and construction unions.
One of his final priorities as mayor is a zoning text amendment that will require developers to obtain special permits for all new hotel construction. The proposal has been scorned by developers and land use experts, but is backed by the Hotel Trades Council, which provided de Blasio with one of the only major endorsements in his failed presidential run in 2019. That alliance has not been lost on the critics of the plan.
Rep. Lee Zeldin
A Long Island Congressman since 2015, Zeldin has established himself as a steadfast ally of former President Donald Trump. In January, he was one of 147 Republican lawmakers who voted against the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Zeldin, who served as a state senator from 2011 to 2014, is widely viewed as his party’s presumptive nominee after overwhelmingly winning a straw poll of county leaders in June.
In November, Zeldin referred to good cause eviction as “universal rent control” and said he would never sign such a bill into law.
“The government should not be adding more red tape that reduces housing choices for all New Yorkers,” he said in a statement.
New York has not elected a Republican governor since George Pataki in 2002, so Zeldin will likely face an uphill battle in the general election.
“It would be very difficult for Zeldin to win unless there is a real divisive brawl among the Democrats,” said Democratic political consultant George Artz. “I don’t see him getting an overwhelming amount of votes in the gubernatorial. He’s too Trumpian. A moderate Republican would stand a chance, but not a Trump-ist.”
Attorney General Letitia James
Her exit was likely a welcome development for landlords.
Addressing members of the Working Families Party last month, James declared her support for good cause eviction. Her speech was significant for a few reasons. For one, she became the first declared candidate to make clear that she supports a top priority of tenant advocates.
For another, it was a callback to her political roots: James won her first term on the City Council in 2003 after running solely on the WFP line. James would have had to compete with Jumaane Williams, and possibly Bill de Blasio, for the WFP’s favor and, by extension, to be seen as the preferred candidate of the far left.
As attorney general, James has launched various investigations into former President Trump and his family’s business. She has gone after landlords for abusing the 421a program and cracked down on construction companies where workers alleged they were exploited and sexually harassed.
James’ ties to Cuomo initially raised concerns about her ability to lead an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the governor, according to the New York Times. The attorney general ultimately appointed independent investigators to lead the probe, which resulted in Cuomo’s resignation.